Today in Venice Fest roundups: "Killer Joe," a Texas-set, New Orleans-shot black comedy starring Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon and the ultimate Hollywood Texan, Matthew McConaughey. The thriller reunites director William Friedkin ("The French Connection," "The Exorcist," and a whole slew of successors that haven't gone anywhere) with Pulitzer-winning playwright Tracy Letts. If the critics are to be believed, this tightly-wound tale of murder, sex and drugs might mean a mainstream hit for the former "Bug" collaborators, not to mention a possible double comeback for 79-year-old Friedkin and the newly-revived Matthew McConaughey. Stranger things have happened, y'all. Consider Exhibit A:
The Playlist: After years of coasting in rom-coms, 2011 has marked, with “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “Bernie,” the start of the rehabilitation of Matthew McConaughey, and it’s more or less come to fruition here: he’s absolutely terrific, serving up a potent reminder of why everyone was so excited about him way back in the mid 1990s. Make no mistake, [the movie's] a nasty, grimy, ultra-violent piece of work, and perhaps not the most significant, soul-stirring play-to-film you’ll ever see. But there are depths to Letts’ work, from the hints of Greek tragedy to the depiction of Dottie, the innocent (or is she?) used as a bargaining chip by the men in her life. It won’t change the face of cinema history, and it won’t win any awards (it’s too downright dirty for that), but it’s furiously entertaining, and a very strong piece of drama from a director who hasn’t much luck in the last thirty-odd years Score: B+
London Evening Standard: There are scenes in this gutsy, sexy, violent film that out-Tarantino Tarantino, and may even test the censors. Terrific casting, fast-paced hip-hop editing and the fag-end-of-America New Orleans locations pull it all through to a corker of a final scene. The film's standout turn though comes from Matthew McConaughey as Joe, the well-spoken, well-dressed, clearly psychotic cowboy cop who moonlights as a hitman, and agrees to take on the contract if he can have Dottie in lieu of payment.
WhatCulture: William Friedkin’s new movie Killer Joe is one of the best films I have seen from a rather disappointing or at least underwhelming bunch of efforts from this year’s Venice Film Festival. Score: 4.5/5
The Hollywood Reporter: McConaughey underplays with seductive, snake-like charm as the black-clad Joe, by far the most sophisticated, intelligent and capable individual on view. Haden Church nails the laughs as the lunk-headed, beer-gulping Ansel, while Gershon, particularly good here, provides much-needed energy as the sensually no-nonsense Sharla. The emphasis remains squarely on the main quartet, right up to the crackerjack finale that, whatever else Killer Joe does or does not achieve, certainly ends proceedings with a highly satisfying bang.
Overall Score: A-
"Killer Joe" does not yet have a U.S. release date.
WATCH McConaughey get all serious-like in this clip from "Killer Joe":